Every child has either been to the zoo or dreamed about going there. Kids love animals, and those animals are a great learning opportunity for young people. As teachers we love to take our classes on learning field trips, but finances and location do not always make it easy to make those trips happen.
This year, bring your class on a stay-in field trip by creating a paper zoo in your classroom. Your students will have the same opportunities to learn about the animals and will get language practice in the process.
Z: How To Create A Paper Zoo In Your ESL Classroom
Getting in the Mindset
Many of your students have probably had an opportunity to go to the zoo in once city or another. Ask for a raise of hands to see how many children remember a trip to the zoo. Ask any or all of them to share what they remember about the experience. Then give your class some common ground by reading one or two books about the zoo. You may want to use My Visit to the Zoo by Aliki or The Tiger Has a Toothache by Patricia Lauber or any others that your students are familiar with and enjoy. After reading, start a list of all the animals a person might see at the zoo. You can ask groups of three or four to make their own lists and then compile the lists to make one large classroom list of possible zoo animals.
To the students who shared a zoo memory, ask what information they learned about the animals there. Also, ask how they learned that information. Starting with the information your class gave, brainstorm a list of what information a visitor to the zoo might like to have. Your class may decide a visitor might like to know what an animal’s natural habitat is like, what an animal eats and how it gets its food, how many babies an animal has and how it cares for them as well as if the animal has any natural predators. As you think about what information a person might want to know about a zoo animal, start a list of unfamiliar vocabulary words on the board and encourage your students to copy them into their notebooks. You may want to include words such as habitat, prey and predator, zookeeper, visitor or any other words that may come up during your discussion. Your students will use these words later when they make their own zoo.
Create the Atmosphere
Once your class has talked about the kind of information a zoo visitor might want to know, have them think about how the visitors might learn that information. How have they learned about different places they have visited? Whether it is a zoo or some other point of interest, visitors get information in many ways. These ways include signs, drawings, maps and workers at the location. Tell your students that they are going to create a paper zoo in the classroom, and they will need to include all these types of information for the visitors who will be coming.
For the zoo, each person in the class will have two responsibilities. First, each person will be part of an information group. The information groups will be responsible for creating signs for the zoo and maps that visitors will receive. Divide your class into two groups and assign one information responsibility to each group. It may be helpful to provide your class with brochures and maps from real zoos for them to use as models. You can find these online or grab a few extras the next time you are visiting your local zoo.
Each person will also be responsible for creating one exhibit. Each exhibit will focus on one animal, and you can allow students to choose from the list you made earlier or you can assign one animal to each student. Make sure no two students are presenting the same animal. The exhibit will include a picture of the animal, the animal’s habitat and a sign with information about the animal. Each person should either draw or print a picture of the animal and create some type of habitat to display that picture in. He should also research information about the animal and write up an informational sign. When visitors come to the paper zoo, he will be the “zoo keeper” for that animal and will have to answer questions the visitors may ask. Give your students several days to prepare and set up the zoo. If your students are beginning level language learners, you may want to make a pair responsible for each exhibit rather than assigning one animal to each student.
Once the paper zoo is complete, welcome visitors to see and learn about the animals. You can ask other classes to come and tour the zoo or open it up to parents and other adults. Whomever you invite, give them a copy of the zoo map and suggest some questions they might want to ask the zookeepers. They can ask information about an animal’s diet, natural habitat or normal activities. Your students should be able to answer the questions based on their research.
Leave the zoo open for a week or two and then take some time to talk about the experience with your students. If they have been to a zoo, ask them to compare the class experience to the real thing. If they have not, ask them what they would like to get out of a visit to a live zoo. If possible, invite a real animal handler to visit the class and share what it means to take care of animals on a daily basis. You may want to consider a fieldtrip to a local zoo if time and budget permit.
You do not have to leave your classroom to have a zoo experience. Your students will enjoy creating their very own zoo right in your classroom, and they will be the authorities when others come to visit.
Everyone will have fun creating and visiting your paper zoo, and your students will never forget the experience.